Having been ordained a novice Buddhist monk, my life was forever changed. I was required to observe the Ten Precepts at all times while at the monastery; each day would proceed according to a rigid schedule.
4:30 Rise and shower – The earlier, the better, because facilities were limited.
5:30 Chanting – All monks were required to attend unless they were ill.
7:30 Cleaning-Sweeping and mopping, trash collection.
10:00 Chanting – Monks engaged in construction were excused.
11:00 Main Meal – Prepared and served by members of the Thai community.
12:00 Washing Bowls – Each monk had his own begging bowl. Junior monks (and the novice)
washed senior monks’ bowls.
1:00 Construction Assistance; Free Time
6:00 Chanting and Meditation – All monks were required to attend unless they were ill.
7:00 Discussion, Instruction, Private Meditation, Individual Study
Chanting and Meditation
Having deposited our shoes outside the door, upon entering the hall we gave three prostrations and took a position on either side of the Master, according to seniority. Chanting began each service. Senior monks knew all the chants; the junior monks and I knew some of them, but otherwise we followed along from a book – theirs in Pali/Thai and mine in Pali/English.
We chanted twenty to thirty chants of praise and homage to the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. Meditation followed, usually in silence but sometimes with a taped lecture or other message playing in the background.
Chanting in a seiza position wasn’t hard; meditation in a half-lotus position wasn’t hard; sleeping on the floor was hard.
Breakfast was served in the kitchen — after sunrise. Most days, the menu consisted of soup (a spicy broth with more spices available), hot tea, and fruit.
We took the main meal of the day in the meditation hall. We had to be finished before noon. The monks were again seated on either side of the Master according to seniority. I was on the far left end. The Thai community prepared and provided the food and served it. As a platter or pot of rice came around, each monk took some food and put it in his begging bowl. According to rule, no food could be saved. Anything left over was washed into the ground.
After noon and before sunrise, only certain foods could be consumed by monks. Occasionally after study in the evening, a few monks would gather in the kitchen. Among the foods monks were allowed to eat any time of day were sugar and cheese. A boy would prepare a plate of shredded cheddar cheese with sugar sprinkled on top and microwave it for a minute or two. We loved it.
For very late snacks, there was a small fridge in the monks’ quarters with juice, also permitted, and chocolate (which they called “medicine”). This was a popular feature and was raided quite often.
Throughout the day, those not engaged in building activities were expected to deliver materials when needed and remove the scraps from the building site. When walking, we were to stay on the sidewalks, taking care not to step on bugs or any other living thing, as any form of killing was to be refrained from according to the first Precept. We cleaned, raked leaves, picked up trash and generally kept busy, keeping always mindful of the task at hand.
Not the End
My weekends at the monastery have ended, but the memory of them will never end. I no longer keep all ten precepts, but I continue to strive for the first five.